Iceland is becoming an increasingly popular travel destination and for good reason. It has amazing waterfalls, glaciers but also volcanoes and it is the perfect place for unforgettable road trips. With all those amazing places to see, it’s easy not to get informed about the dos and don’ts. Below is a list of 20 Iceland tips and tricks for a perfect holiday.
1. Check the prices out before booking your tickets!
Considering the fact that I live in Europe, I was pretty sure that the prices in Iceland were going to be similar to other countries I have visited. Well, not really. A few weeks before departing, when I’ve checked the internet for food prices I almost had a mini heart-attack. You would not expect to pay 30 euros for a one person meal, right?
Now, that I think about it, it’s not that expensive considering that Icelandic people have to import almost all the food because of the weather conditions. If you are on a budget, you can ask the owner of your hostel or somebody at the hotel you are staying at, where you can find cheap supermarkets. I ended up spending a total of 50 euros for food for a 4 day trip. That is pretty decent, right?
2. Change all the money you need in the airport!
Usually, when traveling, I change money in the city not in the airport because the exchange rates tend to be better. Well, Iceland is different. The only place where you can change money in Reykjavik is at the Tourist Information Center which closes pretty early. Therefore, when in Iceland, change all the money you need at the airport or consider using ATMs or credit cards.
3. Book your transfer ticket for a hustle free experience
The Keflavik Airport is situated at about 50 kilometers away from Reykjavik. If you are arriving late or would like to have all things sorted out before landing, I would recommend booking a transfer ticket to the city. We used the Gray Line Bus which left us at Reykjavik Gray Line Bus Terminal. Alternatively, you can book a bus which will take you directly to your hotel or guest house here (this service is a bit more expensive).
4. Protect the nature
The most important thing out of all the Iceland tips and tricks is to protect the nature. Iceland’s nature is just amazing and it would be a shame to ruin it. Always follow the signs, do not drive off the roads, do not leave any garbage behind you and do not camp outside camping spots. With the high influx of tourists coming to Iceland, the negative effects on nature are already visible. Do not contribute to this!
5. Don’t trust the Icelandic weather
Nothing can be more unpredictable than the Icelandic weather. Now it can rain and if you walk 50 meters it will be sunny. Always be prepared for a bit of rain or snow (during winter) even if the weather forecast says exactly the opposite.
6. Don’t spend all your vacation in Reikjavik
Yes, Reykjavik is a beautiful city and it has a lot to offer: beautiful architecture, awesome food, friendly people, great sights but staying only in Reykjavik is like buying a pizza and eating only the mushrooms!
You will get the real taste of Iceland only by visiting all its natural wonders like waterfalls, glaciers, volcanoes and beaches. Iceland is well know for its unique landscape and not seeing any of it would be a shame.
7. Embrace the Icelandic culture and buy a lopapeysa
With various patterns and colors, the lopapeysa has become an Icelandic icon. The sweater has a characteristic decorative circle around the neck and it is traditionally made from Icelandic sheep wool. Although you might think the the lopapeysa was around for a long time, its history dates back to 1950. Nowadays, you can find these sweaters in stores all around Reykjavik and you can’t leave this country without buying one!
8. Eat a traditional Icelandic hot dog
‘What can be so special about a hot dog?’ you might ask. Well, Icelandic hot dogs are definitely unique and they taste amazing! They have become a national dish and you can find them pretty much anywhere. The Icelandic hot dogs are made from lamb, with a bit of beef and pork but the best part about them is the topping – crispy fried onions. If you really want to eat a traditional hot dog, ask for one with everything.
9. If you want to see the puffins, visit Iceland between April and September
The best time to observe these beautiful creatures called puffins is between April and September when the puffins come to the coast to nest. If you are wondering where to see them, check out the best 10 places to see puffins here.
10. Admire the best view in Reykjavik at Hallgrímskirkja Church
If you want to have a panoramic view over the city and the surrounding mountains, do not hesitate to take the elevator to the top of Hallgrímskirkja Church. Its architecture is inspired from the shapes that the lava creates in basalt rock (similar to the ones at Vik Black Sand Beach). To take the elevator in the highest church in Iceland will cost you about $10 but the view is definitely worth it.
Winter (October – April): 09:00 – 17:00. Tower closes 16:30.
Summer (May – September): 09:00 – 21:00. Tower closes 20:30.
11. If you are worrying about safety, don’t!
Another thing you should know before visiting Iceland is that it is definitely one of the safest country I have ever visited. I’ve felt completely safe both during the day and during the night. Icelanders are very friendly people and they will help you with anything.
12. Rent a car!
The first thing you might want to know is that in Iceland there is no railway system. Therefore, the only alternatives you will have are to rent a car or book guided tours. Maybe not all of you will agree, but visiting Iceland with guided tours is a mistake and I’ll tell you why (this applies only if you are 2 persons or more. When traveling solo, it’s cheaper and more convenient to take a tour). If you would like to rent a car, click here.
- Reason no 1: The price. For example, a Golden Circle tour can get you to 150 euros per person. If you will rent a car, the price will be about 50 euros in total (renting plus gas per day). If you are a group of 2 persons or more, well, you do the math…
- Reason no 2: You can make your own schedule. Maybe you don’t want to see a certain attraction or monument or maybe you would like to spend a bit more time in a certain place. You can do all that when renting a car.
- Reason no 3: Weather conditions. When renting a car, you can change your itinerary according to weather conditions (don’t trust weather forecasts. In Iceland you never know).
13. Don’t avoid visiting Iceland during winter
Many people don’t visit Iceland during winter because either the day is too short or the temperatures are too low.
I have visited Iceland in December and the day was long enough to explore the tourist attractions outside Reikjavik. If you wake up early and drive to your point of interest during night, you will get there just in time to enjoy it. Keep in mind that we drove from Reikjavik to Jokulsarlon and back in only one day.
In what concerns the temperatures, believe me: I’ve seen worse in Europe. In Iceland in December the temperatures were between 0 and 5 degrees Celsius, which I find quite acceptable.
Regardless of day length and temperatures, I think that the best argument for visiting Iceland during winter are the Northern Lights! Click here to read my Northern Lights guide.
14. Don’t buy bottled water
Buying bottled water in Iceland is a big no-no because tap and bottled water are basically the same. Iceland has one of the purest water in the world. Don’t waste your money on buying water when you can enjoy the same quality from the tap.
15. Don’t get too close to the waves at Vik Beach
In the past few years tragedies have happened due to sneacker waves at Vik Beach and still, people don’t seem to understand that getting to close to the waves is very dangerous. Even though at a first glance it might not seem dangerous, you can get swept into the sea. Watch the video below to see what I am talking about.
16. Take a shower before entering public swimming pools
Swimming pool etiquette in Iceland requires that everyone should take a shower before entering the pool area. This might not seem like a lot to ask but what nobody mentions is that there are few places with private showers. This means that you will have to shower together with a bunch of strangers. I know it seems a bit weird and uncomfortable but trust me, everyone is used to this and nobody will stare at you.
17. Tipping is not required
Although tipping is not required since both service and VAT are included in the prices, people won’t say no if you want to leave them an extra something. You can round up to the next even number or not tip at all – it’s up to you.
18. Take a photo with the Icelandic horses
The Icelandic horses are a unique breed which can be found only in Iceland. You will notice that they look different than the breeds of horses we are used to. They are a bit shorter and their face is a bit more flattened which kind of makes them a lot cuter. If you will be driving around Iceland, you will definitely spot them on the side of the road doing their thing, eating grass. Don’t hesitate to stop (park safely) and take a photo with them!
19. Don’t argue the existence of elves
Out of all the Iceland tips & tricks, this is the most important to remember. It is said that as much as 50% of the Icelandic population still believes in the existence of elves. What is even more interesting is that roads have been diverted around places where elves are believed to live. I think it is pretty clear that Icelandic people take elves very seriously. This is why you should never ever say to an Icelandic person that elves do not exist. If you want to read more about elves in Iceland, click here.
20. Prepare to fall in love with Iceland
There is no way to leave Iceland without wanting to move there or come back. Maybe it’s because of its unique landscape with volcanoes and glaciers or maybe it’s just the friendly people. Anyway, I am sure that you will fall in love with Iceland.
Iceland is a wonderful country and is definitely worth visiting. Just make sure to do your research and keep in mind these 20 Iceland tips and tricks and you will have an amazing trip. The land of fire and ice will leave you speechless and with a strong desire to come back!
May the travel bug bite you!
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